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Natchez-Adams School District graduates Classes of 2020

NATCHEZ — High School seniors at Natchez High School, Natchez Early College Academy and Ombudsman Educational Services graduated in their first-ever virtual commencement ceremony on Thursday evening due to COVID-19.

The ceremony had been pre-recorded and broadcast at 7 p.m. Thursday by Midsouth Broadcasting, 107.1 The River and on the Natchez Adams School District webpage.

“I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to the members of the Class of 2020, to our parents, guardians, our community members and our staff simply because a virtual commencement exercise was not what we had originally planned for you.” Superintendent Fred Butcher said in Thursday’s ceremony.

“Because COVID-19 popped up surprisingly to all of us, major adjustments had to be made. … Sometime in the last 12 weeks, you might have felt defeated. It is all right to feel defeated, but never be defeated. When you feel defeated and you have experiences in life, whether they are good experiences or bad experiences, they will do nothing more than to help you gain knowledge and strength.”

Special honorees of Thursday’s commencement ceremony are Xavian Lewis, Salutatorian at Natchez Early College Academy; Desnick Bolden, Salutatorian at Natchez High School; Ziah Gaylor-Hawkins, Valedictorian at Natchez Early College Academy; and Carleigh Sproulls, Valedictorian at Natchez High School.

In his salutatory address, Lewis acknowledged that his class had lost weeks worth of experiences when schools closed due to the pandemic — including their prom, senior trip and ultimately a chance to graduate together in-person — and congratulated them on their ability to adapt in challenging situations.

“I want to honor the flexible and ever-changing Class of 2020,” Lewis said. “It is in this time we see that strength, knowledge and even wisdom cannot stop the impending events. But our ability to adapt and effectiveness in changing sustains us in any hardship. … We cannot choose what happens to us, but we can choose how we react to what happens to us.”

The Class of 2020 was born to face adversity, Boldin said in his salutatory address.

“God gives his toughest battles to his strongest soldiers,” he said. “… We were born into this world in the year of 9-11 when America was facing turmoil. … The Class of 2020 was born to be great and be resilient in the face of adversity.”

Gaylor-Hawkins offered her classmates the words of encouragement she said she receives from scripture.

“In our hearts, we may feel let down and that we have missed out on timeless traditions. But I am reminded in Jeremiah 29:11, which says ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord. ‘Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.’ Although we saw the onset of a worldwide pandemic in COVID-19, we must not panic. We must remain courageous, optimistic, valued, innovative and determined not only in this season but in every season,” Gaylor-Hawkins said.

Sproulls said the events of the pandemic had ultimately brought her and her peers closer together.

“Going through this has brought us together as a community, a family and most importantly as the Class of 2020,” she said. “Though all seniors have suffered the unforeseen ending of our last year of high school, this experience has allowed us to focus on what we have experienced as a class rather than the events we have missed out on, bringing us closer together as a whole.”